Cinema is crammed with dance movies that examine obsession or loss, challenge or personal development. And while there has certainly been sex in dance films, And Then We Danced practically begins with the line: "There is no sex in Georgian dance." Yeah, right.
It's interesting for a Swedish director like Levan Akin (who, to be fair, has Georgian parents) to tackle a movie about Georgian dance, but this one is something special, like a fragile flower growing amongst the concrete and rubble of a too-hard Georgian society.
Levan Gelbakhiani is Merab, a 20-something dance obsessive who has been rehearsing an important duo routine for nearly a year in the hopes of gaining a spot with the national dance squad when some other hotshot named Irakli (Bachi Valishvili) shows up to steal his thunder with his fewer years of practice and somehow more effortless moves.
"Since I could walk," Merab answers when asked how long he's danced, and there's a deep family connection to dance as well with his folks having been hip shakers before him. It's almost like his birthright or something, at least in his eyes; his girlfriend is in the troupe as well, his party animal brother, also.
The whole replacement thing wouldn't be the biggest deal, really, but Merab's home life isn't so great. The electricity is often shut off, his elders seem to have given up on pretty much everything and dance is the one place where he can truly feel free. His game is all mixed up, leaving him feeling a ferocious hatred of his rival—oh, but he might be gay, too, and have the major hots for Irakli, so that's really just complicating everything even more.
Scenes with Gelbakhiani and Valishvili are revelatory. They're hot, yes, but with a tenderness wrought from a deeper aesthetic of love and caring. The pressures of a dance career weigh down mightily on them both—does it not make sense to seek comfort with another who truly knows your situation? The relationship is especially moving in its adjacency to the dance studio's—and Tbilisi itself's—machismo, an unexpected element again, but another example of Akin's ability to find something beautiful within seemingly staid or even lifeless places.
While And Then We Danced recalls Whiplash in its brutality and emotionality, it recalls other foreign newcomer Portrait of a Lady on Fire in its portrayal of love in unexpected places; which came fist doesn't matter, because it's magical, even if it hurts us getting there
+Intimate and stirringly powerful; chemistry between leads
-Tough to handle at times and not always palatable
And Then We Danced
Directed by Akin
With Gelbakhiani and Valishvili
Center for Contemporary Arts, NR, 113 min.